So there we were. Three years into marriage and just over two in ministry and I had managed to cheat on my wife and get fired from the only job I had ever known or hoped to do. We were cut off, adrift. Barely holding onto each other because there was literally nothing else for our hands to grasp.
I wish I could say we drew together, but we didn’t. I had never truly moved on from this young woman so in the midst of the failure and depression, in the ruins of my failed attempts to fix things, I fell back into that relationship. In those dark months, I felt as though my life was beyond repair. I would never be the man Mikala deserved or hoped for; I would never be a father my son could be proud of; I would never be a pastor again. Taking my own life became an option within my interior dialogue, or at least I felt the pointlessness of life weighing upon me like an anvil on my chest.
For the first time in my life, I doubted the very existence of God.
I had long struggled with my spirituality – the posture of my soul toward God – and with the deafening silence and lack of emotion that had characterized that relationship, but God’s existence had never been on the table. Even now part of me doubts whether I was truly experiencing the foretaste of atheism, or if despair and lament were simply the only language I could formulate at that point. Again, I am irrevocably spiritual; a “congenital believer.” So these ended less, “Curse God and die!” and more, “Darkness is my only friend.” I spent a great deal of those winter nights looking up at the frosty stars, receiving silence for my questions.
Yet despite my continued unfaithfulness, my depression, and my best atheistic intentions, I couldn’t put it down. Most of the books I read – of which there were many, thanks to substitute teaching! – were theological. I still used my Divine Hours for daily prayer, and, as mentioned before, I attended the early Rite One service at Grace Episcopal every Sunday, after which I would meet my family and the rest of the Campus House castaways at the local hipster church.
I could see the cognitive dissonance becoming physicalized. It became clear that something had to change.
The story of rediscovering ministry is to come, as is the longer story of rediscovering my wife and our marriage. But here is where we breathe and thank the friends and family gathering around us. Although “moving on” was for me still a long way off, I felt the first blush of spring on my heart thanks to the beautiful people who kept us going. I shudder to think of what might have occurred had we been truly alone.
We visited our families several times. Both sets of parents carved out time and even helped defray travel expenses so we could come. My parents and siblings held us and took us to parties and generally let us forget the pain when we were together. My in-laws fully supported and affirmed us (both of us), never once speaking an angry or bitter word to me, though they were well within their rights to do so.
We went to The Farmhouse for a retreat as full of tears as amazing food.
My friend Kellan and I played innumerable games of pool and drank more than a few beers (thanks, BioLife!). Conversations about everything and nothing followed us deep into many evenings. We went camping and randomly drove twelve hours to New York City with Tim. He bought us a freaking Christmas tree because we didn’t have one and later organized an anniversary weekend for Mikala and me.1
Tim made candied bacon.2
We celebrated a Hobbit Day by literally eating seven meals in twelve hours.
Bonnie, who already lived a two minute walk away, became even more of a fixture at our home. What can I say? She became our fellow pilgrim through the pain. We rode to our subbing jobs together, shared several meals per week, and held standing TV nights where we’d eat cookies, drink coffee, and watch The Big Bang Theory, Community, and our favorite, Parks and Recreation.3 We celebrated Advent in her home, singing hymns, praying, and passing the cup and loaf to each needy soul.
Each of these people deserve their own post. Whole entries dedicated to the ways they held us together. Because, though I was still failing, depressed, and unemployed, I had found reasons to go on in the warm embraces of our community. Though healing and transformation were still distant, in the midst of all the pain there was joy in their eyes. And though the stars still refused to answer, for brief moments in that season they seemed a little less cold.
Near the end of this season I came across this poem. Let it turn this story’s corner for us:
The Healing Time
Pesha Joyce Gertler
Finally on my way to yes
I bump into
all the places
where I said no
to my life
all the untended wounds
the red and purple scars
those hieroglyphs of pain
carved into my skin, my bones,
those coded messages
that send me down
the wrong street
again and again
where I find them
the old wounds
the old misdirections
and I lift them
one by one
close to my heart
and I say holy
1. After we moved to Missouri, Kellan, Tim, Bonnie, and another student, Holly, visited several times. Kellan and Bonnie were still visiting right up to our move back to Indiana. We were also blessed with visits from other friends like Allison, and Jeremy and Hannah Lemmons, each of which were all-too brief times of pure joy and remembrance of the good that came out of our Muncie experience.↩
2. I’m pretty sure he would be pleased to have “candied bacon” as his byline here so I’ll say no more, though I could.↩
3. Yeah, that was all on one night. Who needs Netflix!?↩